For as long as I can remember, I’ve always tackled some kind of project on my Memorial Day weekends. When the kids were small, they’d always spend the three-day weekend at their grandmother’s in Kansas City, giving me a rare few days home alone. Being a teacher, Memorial Day weekend was that time of year when I was exhausted, with only a few days left in the school year. Folks, there’s no tired like end-of-the-year teacher tired, except for end-of-the-year-teacher plus single mom tired.
Days Gone By…
For 14 years I worked full-time, raised my kids, and maintained my own home. Most of the time, I felt like I had it all under control. But towards the end of the school year, that bone-weary exhaustion started to set in. I looked forward to that three-day weekend like it was a life raft in a storm.
I knew I’d have three whole days to not think about school, not get dinner on the table, not run kids to practices or events, not make sure little people were bathed and and in bed on time. Just three whole days to do whatever I wanted.
Now, don’t get me wrong… my kids were (and still are) amazing. They really made single-mothering easy on me. They never, ever gave me any real trouble. I really don’t know how I got so blessed. But still, single-mothering is no walk in the park. It’s a lot of responsibility, and a big commitment to make sure you get it right. I mean, is there anything more important?
I always viewed Memorial Weekend as a way to recharge my batteries, so I could be fully invested in the kids when they were home all summer. And our summers home together are still some of my favorite memories. The three of us made a good life together. ❤️💕
For me, recharging looks like totally throwing myself into a project I’d been wanting to get done for some time. If the weather was cooperative, I’d choose a project that would let me be outside all weekend long.
The first year after I bought my own home after my divorce, I built myself a garden on Memorial Day weekend.
Another year I created a little pond in the yard with a waterfall and lily pads, and had it stocked with some small Koi fish by the time the kids came home, so I could surprise them.
Some years, I’d repaint some rooms in the house, or refinish a piece of furniture, or do some landscaping. I always felt exhausted by Sunday night, but also had a sense of accomplishment, and was missing the kids and ready for them to get home. For whatever reason, my Memorial Day project helped me let go of the stress of the school year, and switch gears into summer with the kids.
A New Stage in Life
These days, life looks a lot different. The kids are “adults”, living on their own, working, and doing their own thing. I’m immensely proud of them.
One thing that hasn’t changed though, is I still love a good Memorial Day project. And this year, after months of “distance teaching”, I needed that project more than ever. 😳.
When I suggested to my husband that maybe we should use Memorial Day Weekend to build a garden, he was all in. Sometimes, I don’t know how I got so blessed to have a partner now who fully embraces my schemes and is ready and willing to jump right in with me. I tell ya, people, this guy is a keeper.
The Whiskey Barrel Garden
Last year was our first summer in our new home. We spent all spring and a good chunk of the summer on the landscaping, and getting grass to grow on the back part of our acreage, beyond where we laid sod. A garden just wasn’t in the cards. I was not prepared to face a summer with no home-grown tomatoes though, so we bought a half whiskey barrel and planted one tomato plant, just to make do.
This spring, we discussed the idea of a “real” garden, but at the time, we were fully in the grips of quarantine, I was trying to learn how to effectively teach from home, and Mark was working in the ICU at the hospital at a time when nobody still really knew what to expect with COVID-19. It was a lot of stress to say the least.
So the garden idea got tossed aside, and instead, I ordered two more whiskey barrels online from Home Depot, and picked them up curbside. At the beginning of May, I planted two tomatoes this time, and one cucumber, and pushed the real garden idea back to next summer.
A Lot of Critters Live Out Here
One thing that was challenging us when it came to the idea of a garden, was the amount of wildlife we have out here on our new property. We regularly have deer traipsing through our yard, in addition to a huge array of other creatures. Coyote, raccoons, foxes, opossums, bobcats, muskrats, voles, moles, snakes, ducks, geese, eagles, hawks, egrets, herons, and even a skunk have been spotted by us, or captured on our security cameras, both day and night.
This week alone, we had a painted turtle trying to get into the garden, and a mother raccoon catching frogs in the nearby pond for her babies.
One of my favorite things about living here is all the nature we get to observe. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to go to all the trouble of creating a garden only for it to become a salad bar for the critters instead of for us! 😂
A Change of Plans…
One night when Mark was working the evening shift, I was brainstorming how we could have a garden and keep the animals out.
At my former house, I built myself a simple raised bed garden, and just put a little knee-high fence around the perimeter, because in suburbia, it was only the rabbits I had to keep out. Here, we needed something much more serious. 🤣
As I was browsing the internet, I came across several pictures and plans for raised garden beds with a built in deer fence attached. As I examined them, it seemed like something we could handle ourselves, and that is where the idea for a Memorial Day project began!
Memorial Day weekend happened to be one of my hubby’s holidays off this year, and with all the stress we’d both been under because of coronavirus, it seemed like a fun and relaxing (and safe) way to decompress. When I showed Mark the pictures online of what I wanted to build, he was all in.
Additionally, it served as a good way for my mother-in-law to get out of her house and have a safe thing to do during this mess. All of her senior activities have been cancelled for months, so it was nice to be able to invite her over to pull up a lawn chair at a safe distance, and get some sunshine, fresh air, and company.
The first step of this project was to order the wood. We knew we wanted to use natural cedar, because we didn’t want the chemicals from green-treated lumber leaching into the soil and the veggies.
I looked around online at various places like Lowes, Home Depot and Menards, and soon discovered that we clearly weren’t the only ones who were using some of their quarantine time for home improvement projects, because none of the three big box stores around here had all the various sizes of cedar we’d need. Getting everything we needed would have required us to visit all three stores, gathering some of the pieces at each one.
I wouldn’t have wanted to do that during normal life, let alone. in the middle of a PANDEMIC. Huh uh.
Then I remembered a local lumber company that had delivered all the wood to frame our home a couple of years ago. I gave them a call. Because they have their own mill on site, they were able to make me exactly the sizes of wood that I wanted! And, they were willing to deliver it to me for free the very next day! Several of these pieces were 12 feet long, so them bringing it was a big relief. It would have been hard to get those suckers home ourselves. 😂
Making the Cuts
This was a lot of expensive cedar, so we didn’t want to mess it up. To make sure we could get accurate cuts, my hubby bought this Craftsman Sliding Miter Saw at Lowes.
We wanted this to be a fun project for us to take on together, and one thing I’ve learned over the years is that having the right tools makes a big difference in your enjoyment of a project. Sure, we could probably have made one of the saws we already have work, but it would have been harder and not as accurate, which likely would have diminished the quality of the finished piece and maybe caused frustration. This saw was reasonably priced, worked great, and now we have it for future projects, too. Well-worth it in my opinion.
We spent the first day of the project doing all the cutting. Honestly, this part took longer than I thought it would. Seems like everything does lately, though. 🤣. But, we wanted to be cautious, because we had purchased only exactly the right amount of cedar that we needed, and if we made a mistake, we’d have to figure out how to get a replacement.
I think it took us about 5 hours, with me measuring and marking (and double checking myself), and Mark making the cuts. It was a lot of cuts. It was fine though, because remember we wanted to enjoy ourselves. We were sipping coffee, listening to music, and taking our time.
After we had all the cuts made in the garage/driveway, we carried all the pieces around back and laid them out in stacks on the lower back patio. This turned out to be a good workspace, because it gave us some shade by working underneath the deck, and gave us a flat workspace for assembling the trellises, with easy access to electrical outlets.
Assembling the Base
The back of the raised bed is 12 feet and the sides are 8 feet.
We used 10″ by 2″ pieces of cedar, stacked two high to make the base, attaching them with metal corner brackets. This makes the height of the raised beds 20″, which I love!
I also love the little keyhole cutout in the center, which makes everything in the garden so accessible!
In the picture below, you can see how we used some of our scrap wood pieces to add a brace across the longest 12′ run. We wanted to make sure it wouldn’t bow out, or get out of alignment once all the dirt was added.
Another Layer of Critter Protection
At the last minute, we decided to add some mesh screening on the bottom to keep out any tunneling creatures like moles or voles. I haven’t seen any moles, but in the far back part of our property I do notice several holes where something tunnels. And we definitely have seen several voles and their trails. The last thing we wanted was to go to all the trouble of building this well-fortified garden with a fence, only to have some little guys tunnel up from the bottom! And since this is definitely one of those things you can’t go back and add later, we decided “better safe than sorry”.
I ordered 3 rolls of this wire mesh from Lowes online, and picked it up curbside. Then we cut it with wire cutters just enough bigger than the bottom of the garden that it would go up the sides about an inch or so.
Be really careful doing this because the edges are sharp! We made sure to wear work gloves when we were working with the wire, to protect our hands, but this still turned out to be the only injury of the whole project, when I accidentally rubbed my ankle across the edge of a piece of the mesh, instantly drawing blood. 😳 🩸
Building the Trellises/Deer Fencing
Next, we assembled the upper sides of the garden. These serve as both a barrier to keep the deer out, and also mesh trellises to support any vining plants, like cucumbers.
Apply Wood Protector
At this point, we decided to apply a clear wood protector to the cedar, to make it withstand the elements better. We used Cabot’s Clear Wood Protector just to give the wood some water and UV protection, without adding color, since the new cedar was already a nice tone.
We made sure to apply the stain to only the exterior portion of the base. We didn’t want the toxic chemicals to come in contact with the soil, and seep into our vegetables.
We did apply the water protector to all sides of the trellises though, because those won’t be in contact with the soil at all.
Adding the Trellis Netting
We used a heavy duty polyester netting and cut it just slightly larger than each trellis piece. Then we tacked it down with a staple about every 2 inches on all sides, using an electric staple gun. You can use a manual staple gun, but this ends up being a lot of staples. I think we went through a box of 1200. My hand was tired after I was done, even with an electric staple gun.
Attaching the Trellises
The trellis frames are made out of 2x2s and 2x4s, so they sit nicely on top of the 2×10 inch boards of the base. We secured them by drilling multiple 3″ screws along each one.
We were very careful to drill pilot holes first, so we didn’t split the cedar. One thing that was a big help was using both our Ryobi drill for the pilot holes, and our Ryobi impact driver to insert the screws. By having both, we didn’t have to keep switching drill bits over and over. Plus, my hubby had these magnetic bowls, which were super handy to make sure our screws weren’t getting lost in the grass.
Not to mention, how lucky were we to be working with this view? See what I mean about the enjoyment of a good project, especially an outside one? It was just what my tired soul needed.
We built the door out of 2x2s and 2x4s. The bottom panel of the door has some hard wire mesh that is black plastic coated to make it stronger, and the top has more of the polyester netting.
We added three pretty sturdy hinges, and a self-latching gate clasp to hold the door shut.
This is where we made our only “mistake”. We realized the 2×4 in the middle of the door wasn’t going to align correctly with the post rail for the door to lock properly. It was an easy fix though. We just had to remove the screws, move it down, and drill new holes. No big deal.
Ready for Dirt!
Can you believe that the dirt was the hardest part of this whole project?! 🤪 Both acquiring it and hauling it.
It never even occurred to me that we’d have a hard time finding dirt. I mean, really? I started calling around to various companies and many of them told me that because a record number of people had decided to build a garden this year, they were out of garden soil. I guess this pandemic made everyone decide they better secure their own food supply, huh? Victory Gardens for everyone! 🤣
It took calls to multiple places, plus one guy who stood me up twice, before I finally caved and paid more than I wanted to a company who agreed to bring it in an hour. Worth it.
They brought almost 4 tons of a garden soil mix (60% black soil, 20% compost, and 20% sand) and dumped it right in the middle of our driveway. Which is a looooooong way from our garden site. Like, an acre away.
Fortunately, my hubs had this handy garden cart that attaches to his lawn tractor which we used to haul allllll of that dirt back there, one cart at a time. Shovel it in the cart, drive the cart back to the garden, shovel it out of the cart. Doing this with 4 tons of dirt was a long, hot, sweaty process.
Fortunately, we had help from our strong and energetic 18-year-old, who has youth on his side. 😂 But even my 82-year-old mother-in-law did a little shoveling. I was impressed! It was definitely a group effort to get this part done.
Above is a picture of my husband hauling a couple of totes of dirt we had leftover from another project. We dumped those in the bottom of the garden base first, and then the 4 tons of garden soil, but even that wasn’t quite enough. After it settled a bit, we still added about 6 bags of compost and peat moss on top.
But look at that beautiful dark, rich soil we ended up with! That is going to grow some mighty good veggies, I have no doubt.
Time to Plant!
The raised beds are more than 20″ high, which made adding the plants so easy! No stooping down.
Plus, since the soil is such a nice loose mix of dirt, compost and sand, it was light and easy to work with. All of the plants tucked in so nicely.
This 12’x8′ garden has a surprising amount of space to work with. In here I was able to plant 4 tomatoes plants, 2 cucumber plants, one zucchini plant, one yellow squash plant and 8 pepper plants (4 each of 2 different varieties!)
Not only is the height of the beds perfect, but I love the little keyhole cutout center. It makes it so easy to access all the plants without having to traipse through the middle of a muddy garden to reach things.
Plus, we added several bags of pea gravel in the walking area, which keeps the grass from growing up, and prevents it from being muddy after watering.
I was so excited to get my plants in there at the end of the weekend! My husband worked on the mowing, and I got all my plant babies nestled into their new home.
Just as we were finishing up, we were treated with these beautiful rays.
And then when I looked across the pasture, I saw these little guys watching us, making me glad all our plants were fully protected in their garden fortress. 😂 I love watching the deer, but we didn’t go to all this work to provide them with a snack. 🤣
Finishing Touch: Flagstone Pavers
Remember when I mentioned that a Memorial Day project many years ago was to build a small fish pond in the back yard of my former house?
Well, when we moved, I bought those flagstones with me, hoping to find a new purpose for them.
For the past several years, they’ve just been hanging out waiting for the right place to relocate. After we got the garden done, and the pea gravel inside, we decided we needed a way to block a little more of the gap under the door, and hold the gravel in. The flagstones worked perfectly.
We used paver leveling sand to situate them, and then Quickrete Sand/Topping Mix to fill in the gaps and hold them in place.
I love how it turned out! Plus, we arranged them in a bit of a slope, so it serves as a little ramp to get the garden cart in and out of there if needed, and allows the water to run off away from the gate.
Plus, it’s a happy memory from days gone by every time I walk over those stones. ❤️💕
The Watering Dilemma
When we were building our house, we noticed too late that the builder oddly did not include an outdoor water spigot on the far side of the house, closest to where we placed our garden. There is one in the garage and one on the side closest to the garage. Design flaw.
Originally, I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to just drag a really long hose from the side of the house out to the garden to water. Wrong. Have you ever drug 200 feet of hose across an acre of property in 100 degree heat? And then rolled it allllll back up again. Yeah, that was not going to happen daily.
While we were figuring out Plan B, I made do by filling my favorite red water can (a gift from my mother-in-law) many times over and trekking it out to the garden.
And then, these guys showed up to save the day! They work for the company that originally installed our lawn irrigation system, and they had a plan!
They added two new lines to our existing irrigation system. One is a little box inset in the ground, and when you open it, a hose spigot pops up! Hose problem solved!
And even better, the second new line runs directly to the garden, and up each corner. We can now program that zone independently to water the garden on a timed schedule everyday, even when we aren’t home! Brilliant!
The garden sprinklers can be operated from the main controller in the garage, or directly from our phones. Money well-spent in my opinion.
We decided to go with both the hose option and the wifi sprinkler option, because this way, if we aren’t home or traveling (in future summers), it will automatically water without us needing to hire someone to come do it.
Plus, now we also have hose access on that side of the house for whatever else we might need it for.
Zones 1-8 are the lawn sprinklers, and zone 9 is the garden. It’s on its own program.
Garden Planning & Record Keeping
Before I planted my garden, I made a plan of where to place things. I recorded each type of plant. As the growing season goes on, I can jot notes of what grew well, what didn’t, and how each plant produced. This will help me make decisions about next year’s garden. If we liked, or didn’t like, a particular variety, I will be able to recall what it was, so I can purchase, or not purchase, it again. If I didn’t do this, there’s no chance I’d remember by next spring. Pretty sure this is a trait I got from my mom. She was the queen of note writing. ❤️
And, we still have our bonus garden, too! The grape tomato and heirloom tomato I had planted in early May were so well-established, I didn’t want to disturb them, so I left those in the whiskey barrels. I moved the cucumber, and placed it next to the second one of a different variety in the raised bed garden. Then I added Brussels Sprouts in that barrel instead. I’ve never grown sprouts before, but decided that I’m going to try one new thing each year. This year, it’s Brussels Sprouts.
If you have any Brussels Sprouts advice, I’d love to hear it!
One thing leads to another…
As one project often has a way of leading to another, after we got our garden all assembled, the bright new cedar made our old A-frame swing look pretty sad. This swing is another project from a loooooong time ago, with some very special memories tied to it.
It used to be a play set that we built, with my dad’s help, for my kids when they were just toddlers. When I got divorced and bought a new house, my dad and I took it all apart, moved it to the new house, and painstakingly put it back together. My kids enjoyed it there for a few more years.
When they got too big for it, I was sad to get rid of it, so my dad suggested we turn it into an A-frame to hold a porch swing instead. One weekend years and years ago, he and my mom came over (she brought lunch and supervised 🥰) and my dad and I worked together to take down the old play set and repurpose the wood to build the A-frame. The porch swing was a Mother’s Day gift from my kids that year.
When I sold that house, there was no way I was leaving that swing behind, so my sweet husband went out to the backyard in the dead of winter (we sold that house in January), took it apart, and hauled it away to storage. It stayed disassembled for months until this home was finally done, and we set it back up here.
After a new coat of stain, it looks refreshed again, and makes the perfect place to sit for a break when we are working in the garden. ❤️
Enjoying a project is a trait I got from my dad. He always had one kind of a project or another going, for better or for worse. 😜 He was a self-taught handyman, and if something needed to be fixed, rigged, or built, he’d learn how to do it. Watching him gave me confidence to learn how to do things for myself. I still like that aspect of a project…”Oh, that didn’t work? Okay, let’s try it this way instead….”
Pretty sure I got my penchant for a good curse word when things go wrong from my dad, too though. 😂🤣
We did take a break from our garden building on Memorial Day to take this to my parents at the cemetery.
And here’s the red cardinal that visited our yard not long after our garden was complete. ❤️
I’m so glad we decided to tackle this garden project, and I’m even more glad that my hubby and I did it together. It was such a fun way to spend time together. We took it slow, worked as a team, and enjoyed ourselves along the way. Plus, it’s such a sense of accomplishment that we did it all ourselves. I’m so happy with how it turned out, and now I can add it to my ever-growing list of Memorial Day project memories.
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